Prescriptions: How to Hook your reader Wk 2

This week we’re going to continue with: How to hook your reader on the first page! To review, two weeks ago we talked about the HOOK, and how the hook needs to be SHARP.

This week, let’s take a closer look at that first element of crafting your HOOK.

S = Stakes – Making them big, scary and intimate

Why does it matter? This is the question every reader is going to ask themselves, if not verbally, then underneath it all, as they’re reading. Why, indeed, should I spend my time reading this book? Stakes don’t have to be as epic as Red October (saving the world from a cold war weapon), or Independence Day (saving the world from an alien invasion), or even a cultural level (Erin Brockovich – saving a town from toxic water) but can be on a more intimate personal level. (i.e., Somersby – honor versus self-preservation). Stakes are what is going to drive your reader through the story, whether they are personal or public, and hinting at them in the beginning will give your reader “something to fight for.”

There are two kinds of stakes: Public and Private. This week, we’ll talk about PUBLIC STAKES

Public stakes have much to do with public values. For example, during WW2, the public value was very much protecting our country and banding together to fight the wars. So, stories about espionage, and battle were popular stakes in books and movies.

However, as time has changed, so have our values.

Today, personal freedom, and family have taken over as the chief collective stakes of today. We still have issues of national security, (which is why shows like 24 are so popular, but even within those issues, it’s shows like Army Wives, the life behind the war that captures people.).

When stakes involve our freedoms and safety as Americans, or members of a family, it makes for a compelling story.

One example is “Saving Private Ryan.” Even the main character – Tom Hanks – realizes the power of family within the great backdrop of the war as he fights to bring home Private Ryan to his devastated mother.

Ask yourself…is the issue in the story pertinent to the public values? Does it touch the heart of all of us? Does it tap into the American Dream?
Ask yourself…what matters to me? If it matters to you, then it matters to others. What’s the worst thing you could think of happening to you? Then others fear that also. And that’s where you find your public stakes.

Join us next week when we talk about PRIVATE STAKES!

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Self Therapy: What’s Important To A Scene?

Back from 12 days on the road, visiting family and friends, I sat down to work on Love Starts With Elle, my work in progress. (WIP for those who are new to this game.)

I started editing chapter one, a chapter I’d edited many times, but as I worked it yesterday, I didn’t like it. Before vacation I did, so what happened?

Panic.

I felt the stakes weren’t high enough. Was the opening hook strong? Did Elle seem too sanguine? I pondered these questions while walking my dog, Pal, later in the evening.

I was going to revamp my whole story, take my “soft” opening and drive some hard core plot point into it.

Yet, I realized, stakes are raised gradually. Since this is a love story, I needed to set the stage. My heroine has every thing she wants in life: a growing art gallery, a handsome boyfriend, a cozy island cottage.

Gradually, I want to take away these things from her. If I start the story with Elle losing her boyfriend, there won’t be enough sympathy for her. Why do we care?

If we don’t see her success with her gallery, why would the reader care when she has to choose between love and her career?

While we want every scene to be as potent as possible, we have to keep the over all story question in mind. For me, it’s how God rebuilds Elle’s life after she’s lost two of the most important things. So each scene should set the stage for Elle’s goals and dreams, and how life doesn’t always turn out like she planned.

I determined to keep the opening scene, but to shore it up. Taking from the lesson on secondary characters, I combined two art patrons I had in chapter one. I realized the information I needed delivered would work well from one character and the second wasn’t needed.

Here are a few items to keep in mind when constructing a scene:

1. Setting. Let the reader know the surroundings.
2. Scene goal. What are you trying to accomplish with the scene? Make sure it points to a story question.
3. Combine characters. One or two per scene is enough – as a rule. But rules can be bent. Just make sure.
4. Raise the stakes gradually, but keep moving your protagonist toward disaster.
5. Keep writing!

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Frustrated? Confused? …Dreaming of the day when an editor calls and says, “I MUST publish your book?” Don’t laugh — it could happen! It does happen – all the time – and you could be next! What’s holding you back? Flat characters? A Saggy plot? Lackluster writing? Let the Book Therapists help. We believe that deep inside every troubled story lies a deep-seated problem. But it’s not beyond hope… Your book simply needs therapy. Stop by MY BOOK THERAPY and…get published!

Doctor’s Notes: More on Secondary Characters

Monday, we answered Julie’s question about secondary characters – how many is too many? How to keep them from being boring or flat?

I’ve been thinking about this issue today and wondering how we can get creative with secondary characters. Think of a painting. Many times the artist will outline images with black in order to make them stand out. Sometimes, an artist covers an canvas in blue or orange before beginning to paint.

These are accents that help the over all painting though the eye of the observer many never really notice.

On the television show, Samatha Who, Samatha has two friends. One acts as Samatha’s good conscious, Dina. The other, her devilish side. Angela.

The premise of the show is Samatha has lost her memory. She can’t remember her life. As she debates issues and rediscovers life, Samatha’s friends act as sounding boards. Angela urges Samatha to give in to her daring side. Dina reminds her to be cautious.

These friends are individual reflections of Samatha’s internal conflict. She’s torn internally with her angelic and devilish desires.

So, think of your secondary characters as reflections of your protagonist. As I think of my current work, Elle is an artist. She’s engaged to a pastor in the beginning of the story.

Now, this man is very organized and structured, a goal setter and planner. So is Elle. But when she enters Jeremiah’s planned or orchestrated life, the artist part of her doesn’t surrender easy. While Jeremiah reflects her goal-setting side, he doesn’t reflect her artist side.

Enter hero Heath McCord, a sports anchor and wanna be writer. He’s very watchful and supportive of Elle. He reflects her artist side and encourages her art work.

In Diva NashVegas, I created a gardner named Jose. He was a Christ like character – the Great Gardner of our lives. Whenever we saw Jose working the yard or garden, it reflected something God was doing in Aubrey’s life.

So, have fun. Think broad and deep with secondary characters.

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5 Secrets to a Best-Selling Novel

Frustrated? Confused? …Dreaming of the day when an editor calls and says, “I MUST publish your book?” Don’t laugh — it could happen! It does happen – all the time – and you could be next! What’s holding you back? Flat characters? A Saggy plot? Lackluster writing? Let the Book Therapists help. We believe that deep inside every troubled story lies a deep-seated problem. But it’s not beyond hope… Your book simply needs therapy. Stop by MY BOOK THERAPY and…get published!

Ask The Doc: How to handle secondary characters

Julie writes: My biggest problem right now is how to handle secondary characters. How many are too many? How do I keep them from taking over or stealing the scene? How do I keep the reader from being confused by them or, even worse, bored by them! Mine always seem to go overboard, and I have to spend too much time editing them back to size.

Great question. I ran into a similar problem while writing Diva NashVegas. In my effort to create a large, super star world, I created too many extras for my set. So, I paired it down to those who were essential: assistant, manager, house manager and a few others as the scene allowed. This in addition to her love interests.

Here are some guidelines to consider for secondary characters.

1. How does the character show off my hero or heroine? What is their point of being in the story?
2. How do they add to the story? Is the secondary character an antagonist?
3. Allow secondary characters to fulfill mutliple roles. Can a best friend be the antagonist? For example, the best friend doesn’t like the heroine’s choice for a boyfriend, so she fights her.
4. If you’re bored or confused with secondary characters, the reader will be also. Create a cast of characters before writing and figure out who you really need, and what role he/she will play in the story.
5. How do they advance the protagonist journey and thus the story?
6. Can they act as experts or be the keeper of a secret?

Back to Diva NashVegas, I had to eliminate characters like the stylist, booking agent, and other employees. While a touring super star might have a large cast, my fictional super star could not. So, I assumed certain things – like readers won’t really care if I don’t mention her stylist or fitness trainer.

I also used characters that advanced the plot. For example, my country diva, Aubrey, met with her record label to renegotiate her contract. In real life, a recording artist would have his or her manager and lawyer in tow – at least. So, I added those characters to the scene.

Now, Aubrey’s lawyer wasn’t needed in any other scenes, so I didn’t add her. This keep the secondary characters simplified and focused.

Also, let secondary characters reveal back story or act as experts. It would sound corny to have Aubrey explain to her manager how a record deal works, but it sounds perfect coming from her lawyer in the form of questions or informtion. “Here’s where we are in the negotiation.” Or, “What do you want to do with this option?”

Having secondary characters carry around expert or secret information keeps them from being flat or boring.

Think of your own life. Who are the secondary characters? For me, I’d say my husband, my friends Susie, Chris and Rene. My guitar player on the worship team. Now, there are more than these people in my life, but I was writing my story, these are people I might include.

So, keep it simple. You can always add a character if you need to. Also, not every secondary character is one to follow throughout the story. For example, Aubrey attended a party at her future in-laws home. Of course, I had to include her fiance’s parents, and I added set of family friends. This was to create tension and futher Aubrey’s internal conflict of wanting to be a part of a family, but never feeling like she belonged with Nashville blue bloods.

These were not characters that flowed through the story – they were only needed for a scene, to create tension and drive Aubrey to answer questions within herself.

Hope this helps. Keep track of key secondary characters as you read and watch movies.